Third, fourth and fifth-generation residents of Albany’s Rapp Road community trace their families to the rural South.
But it’s their fading history in New York’s Capital Region that they’re trying so hard to preserve.Beverly Bardequez of the Rapp Road Historical Association says resident’ ancestors were drawn to the Capital Region because of its familiarity.
“The thing that drew them here,” says Bardequez. “it looked very much like where they had come from, pine trees, dirt roads.”
The Rapp Road community was built in the 1920s with small southern-style homes in Albany’s Western pine tree and sand hill geographic region, now consumer or surrounded by the Crossgates shopping mall, and cut off by the New York State Thruway. It was settled by African-Americans from Mississippi intent on escaping the Jim Crow South.
Today, while feeling economic pressure to sell for development, the remaining descendants are working to preserve their community.
“You can’t just come in and tear down the homes, which is what a lot of people would like to do,” says Bardequez. “The overall goal is to have our neighborhood recognized as an African-American community that was established as a result of the Great Migration.”
The rural southerners moving to Northern cities like Albany were part of the Great Migration, as chronicled in a book by New York State historian Jennifer Lemak.
The history of the Rapp Road Community is gradually being preserved, and the timing is ideal because there aren’t many of the original residents left.
Kandy Fairley is a third-generation who grandparents arrived in 1939. She’s hoping to restore the family house for future generations.
“We know that we’re always going to be here,” says Fairley. “Some part of our generation is going to be here. Not selling. Not moving. We’re staying.”
Rapp Road families helped each other build their homes, raise their children, car for their sick, and grow their Albany church, Wilborn Temple. Descendants return each summer for their annual reunion in the neighborhood, now forever protected by state and national historic registers.
Next, the Rapp Road Historical Association hopes to develop a cultural center to further share their history
.“As long as I have breath in me, I’m going to fight to preserve the history,” says Bardequez. “For us, blood, sweat, and tears are in this soil.”